The Rev. Jesse Jackson without a doubt changed a nation with his friend and former colleague Martin Luther King Jr. as they both worked together to fight against racial injustice in America.
As Jackson turns 80 on Friday, his wish is to be remembered for his life’s work and to preserve a race equality framework that has been passed on since King’s death.
Jackson said a lot has happened in his life in the past 50 years. More recently, that includes being hospitalized with his wife Jaqueline Jackson for COVID-19 in August. Both were in the COVID-19 unit for months, according to Jackson, who said despite being vaccinated his Parkinson’s disease made him more vulnerable to the virus. He urged people to get their shots to prevent a similar situation.
“My message is don’t be superficial, and don’t be foolish,” Jackson said. “The vaccine works. I am a witness. My doctor said I would’ve been dead without the vaccination. And across the South, particularly in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, (people would) rather not take the COVID-19 vaccine. Even people not wearing masks have died because of the lack of taking free medicine.”
Jackson attended Simeon High School on Thursday to address the fatal separate shootings of two students: 15-year-old Kentrell McNeal and 15-year-old Jamri Williams. He said he soon plans to work with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to address the constant shootings in the city.
“We need a full-court press that sets police and educators amongst each other,” Jackson said. “Children themselves have a big responsibility. Somebody knows who killed the two boys, so they must be a part of the process. So, we must engage students in a meaningful way, so they address these killers. They know who they are.”
Jackson has endured a great deal of loss, including the death of his dear friend and mentor King. He still remembers the moment on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in 1968 when the civil rights leader was assassinated.
“I will never forget that scene when he died,” Jackson said. “It’s in my head so often. After that moment, [I tried] to get people together to build political empowerment.”
In 1986, he founded the PUSH Coalition and then the national organization in Washington, D.C. called the National Rainbow Coalition. In 1996, both organizations merged to form the Rainbow PUSH coalition, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote social justice, civil rights and advocacy.
After starting the two organizations, he ran for office in 1984 as the second Black presidential candidate. He ran again in 1988 but was not able to secure the role despite securing twice as many votes as his previous campaign. Although he did not go on to become America’s first Black president, he says felt the utmost joy on the night Barack Obama won the presidency.
Jackson has no plans to slow his ambitions anytime soon. Among his goals, Jackson wants to embark on a peace mission to meet Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers.